The Two Risk-Takers
2010.09.03 prev next
In the tech world over the past few decades, there have been really just two big risk-takers.
Most other tech companies seem to be content to play it safe. But not these two.
Apple’s risk-taking consists of striking out in bold new directions with products that are radically different, and often radically better, than what anyone else is offering. The risk is that some of those products won’t be successful. And the ones that are successful risk being successfully copied by other companies.
Microsoft’s risk-taking consists of testing the limits of what they can get away with legally, in terms of copying and intimidation (FUD).
For quite a while it appeared that Microsoft’s style of risk-taking was superior to Apple’s. But that was just because Apple was screwing up in various ways. Now that Apple has learned how to carefully protect its successes, we can see that Apple’s form of risk-taking is vastly superior to Microsoft’s.
Bill Gates has been called “smart” many times, and I agree. But he isn’t smart in the same way as Steve Jobs. He’s smart only in a business-opportunity sense. And he retired* about ten years ago because, I think, his business smarts told him the jig was up. Microsoft’s style of risk-taking wasn’t going to work any more against Apple’s, unless Apple made some very dumb mistakes. And an older, wiser, Jobs wasn’t very likely to make those mistakes.
So Gates left, and in his wake left Microsoft run by guys who think that all they have to do is copy successful products as closely as they can, and everyone will switch to Microsoft’s copy — enthusiastically or begrudgingly — but they’ll switch. They’ll have to.
Gates left Microsoft run by guys who think they’re selling to “the channel,” and then the consumers just have to take what the channel shoves in front of them.
But it just isn’t so. Not any more. Slipping a fast one past Uncle Sam is one thing. Slipping a fast one past Jane and Joe Consumer is quite another.
Microsoft is rapidly sinking into a ghost-like, IBM-style irrelevancy, in which it will nurse its core businesses, run occasional, bland, contentless ad campaigns, and mean almost nothing to the average citizen.
And getting rid of Ballmer probably won’t make any difference.
Goodbye, Microsoft. I would say it’s been nice knowing you. But really, it hasn’t.
*Update 2010.10.13 — Correction: Gates resigned the CEO post ten years ago, but didn’t retire from Microsoft until shortly after Apple came out with the iPhone in 2007.
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